Sony a290 vs. Sony a390

Sony a290 vs. Sony a390

Sony released two new entry-level DSLRs, the Alpha 290 and 390, which replace the previous trio of Alpha 230, 330 and 380. Both the Alpha 290 and the 390 cost less than 500 EUR with the 18-55mm SAM set lens, and they are also technically largely identical: the CCD image sensor has a resolution of 14.2 megapixels and is mounted on a movable mount for image stabilization (Sony SteadyShot), the bayonet is compatible with all Alpha (and older Minolta autofocus) lenses, and the APS-C size of the image sensor means that the focal length extension factor is 1.5. In contrast to the Alpha 290, the 390 offers LiveView, and the 2.7″ screen (6.9 cm) is also foldable.

We have a complete review of each of these cameras. We have the review of the Sony Alpha 290 and another article with the review of the Sony Alpha 390.

The folding mechanism allows the screen of the Alpha 390 to be tilted 55° downwards and 135° upwards. As a result, the Alpha 390 is about 41 g heavier than the Alpha 290, which weighs 504 g ready for operation (with battery and memory card, but without lens). Moreover, the Alpha 390 is somewhat thicker than the Alpha 290, whose case measures 79.6 mm in thickness, at 128.1 x 97.1 x 83.5 mm. Those who can do without LiveView and folding screen will save around 50 EUR with the Alpha 290, as it is said to cost only around 450 EUR with 18-55mm SAM. Both Alphas are not offered without a set lens, but are additionally available with 55-200mm SAM in a set, the additional price is 200 EUR each. The new entry-level DSLRs should be available from the end of July 2010.

A striking change compared to the previous models is the ergonomics. Fortunately, Sony has moved away from the grip design without reasonable ergonomics, so that the two new models should fit much better and safer in the hand. Both have an optical reflex viewfinder, although there are further differences due to the LiveView mechanism. At 0.83x magnification, the viewfinder of the Alpha 290 is slightly larger than that of the Alpha 390, which magnifies 0.74x. In addition, the eye relief, which is greater on the Alpha 390 at 19.7 mm from the eyepiece than on the Alpha 290 at 16.5 mm, is different. In practice, this means that with the Alpha 290, you have to move your eye closer to the viewfinder to avoid shadowing the corners. The differences are due to Sony’s LiveView mechanism. In the viewfinder hump is a small image sensor, by mechanical switching on the viewfinder a mirror swivels the viewfinder image instead of through the eyepiece to the eye on this image sensor, which provides the live image, but only with 90% field coverage. This allows the large primary mirror to remain stationary, which means that the autofocus sensor in the bottom of the camera can remain active, giving Sony the fastest LiveView autofocus of any DSLR. In contrast to the Alpha 550, for example, the entry-level cameras do not offer a LiveView function via the main image sensor in order to be able to work extremely precisely, for example when focusing manually.

The other equipment of the cameras is absolutely identical. For example, the proximity sensor between the viewfinder and the screen, which turns the screen off. A position sensor ensures that the screen content is correctly rotated during status display and playback. In addition to a main menu, the Alphas also have a quick menu for important settings that cannot be accessed directly using the existing controls. ISO sensitivity ranges from ISO 100 to ISO 3,200 at both, and noise reduction ensures noise-free images even at higher sensitivities. Shooting programs range from subject programs to program auto to semi-automatic with manual selection of aperture or exposure time or full manual control of exposure – so beginners, those willing to learn and creative people will all get their money’s worth.

Other features include a flash with guide number 10 and a mini-HDMI connection for viewing images on HD TVs, with Bravia-Sync ensuring that the TV remote control can be used to control the connected camera, for example to start the slide show or to manually click on the images. Both Alpha models have two memory card slots, one for memory sticks and one for SD(HC) cards. Switching must be done manually, i.e. the camera cannot automatically control the memory cards in parallel or sequentially.

Sony particularly emphasizes the Alpha 290 and 390’s beginner-friendly and easy operation, with menus and displays designed to be easy to understand and the function of the control wheels always displayed. Both an explanation of the camera operation and a basic photo course (even with meaningful sample pictures) are stored and retrievable in the camera. As usual, Sony offers an extensive range of accessories including cases, lenses, optical filters, GPS, Li-Ion replacement batteries, flashes etc.


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Peter Dench
I am Peter Dench. Digital Photographer, born in London 1972, currently living in Deerfield, near Chicago. I have numerous photography expositions and also working in model photography. In this website, PhotoPoint, I usually review cameras provided by local dealers in Illinois and by the manufacturers. Sometimes I, Peter Dench, review lenses too, but only when I have a suitable camera for them. Please let me know in the comments if I can improve any of these articles.